Boulder Reporting Lab took first place in Climate Reporting, Public Service and other categories in the Society of Professional Journalists Top of the Rockies journalism contest, announced on April 22, 2023.

The Climate Reporting award went to Tim Drugan, who joined BRL in spring 2022 as the first climate-dedicated reporter in Boulder County, for his body of work on local climate impacts and solutions. His stories ranged from illuminating forest-thinning projects and their impact on fire intensity and water quality to the process of electrification and the burying of utility lines by residents to protect their neighborhoods against wildfire.

Drugan has sought with his reporting to offer ways for community members to gain knowledge on climate solutions and find empowerment against often overwhelming problems.

BRL, together with the Center for Environmental Journalism and seven graduate students at the University of Colorado Boulder — Anthony Albidrez, Ali Branscombe, Amber Carlson, Josh Couture, Helen Driesen, Elise Ertl and Zain Iqbal — also won first place in the Public Service category for No return: The unseen toll of the Marshall Fire’s ‘standing home’ survivors, a multi-newsroom, student-led collaborative pop-up news project. Robyn Vincent, investigative reporter at KUNC, was named on the award. The project also won second-place for Enterprise Reporting.

The reporters exposed the far-reaching impact smoke damage has had on Marshall Fire survivors’ lives. They illuminated how these survivors — often called “the lucky ones” because their homes still stood — are left out of insurance claims, federal and local support, and the safety net provided to people whose homes burned. The stories described the science of smoke damage and the gap in research about safe pollution levels inside homes. They helped expand understanding of the scope of fire loss and displacement from the Marshall Fire, and revealed an untold aspect of wildland-urban fires nationwide.

Stories by BRL senior reporter John Herrick, published as part of Chasing Progress, a multi-newsroom project examining socioeconomic and health equity among Black and Latino Coloradans, also won first place.

Through an analysis of district and statewide data, Herrick’s reporting on disproportionate discipline at BVSD found that Latino students at BVSD are about 3.5 times more likely to be suspended than white students. While Latino students made up nearly 20% of BVSD’s 29,000 students, they accounted for about 44% of suspensions, he found. Herrick also showed how suspensions and police referrals can have lasting negative impacts on young lives.

In all, BRL won five first-place awards and was recognized 10 times in the contest’s small newsroom category that included submissions from Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. The awards were given for work done in 2022, the nonprofit newsroom’s first full year of publishing.

Drugan won first place for best Ag and Environment Feature Story for Decades of ‘what-ifs’: The history of CU South leaves many wondering what could have been. Using historical documents and interviews, he uncovered a chapter of the history of CU South — a locally contentious flood mitigation and housing development project — few knew about.

Other awards included Jezy Gray’s and Anthony Albidrez’s community stories after the Marshall Fire. Nonprofit K9 search and rescue team offers closure to Boulder County residents grieving lost pets after the Marshall Fire won third place for Multimedia Reporting. The story ‘Sans Souci magic’: A cooperative community looks for support after the Marshall Fire won first place in the Features Short Form category.

See the full list of SPJ Top of the Rockies 2023 award winners here.

About Boulder Reporting Lab 

Boulder Reporting Lab is a nonprofit, 501c3 local news organization founded in 2021 to fill a gap in Boulder-local, public interest daily journalism. 

Photo credits: Anthony Albidrez

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